Top 12 Defensive Backs for IDP Dynasty Leagues

When we're drafting DBs, we either grab the top three studs or punt the position until the later rounds. Do you agree with that strategy? Or are you targeting some of these guys?

When it comes to IDP, there is perhaps no position more volatile year to year than defensive back (especially those darn cornerbacks). That makes drafting DBs for your dynasty teams pretty tricky—get it wrong and you could be paying the price for years to come. But get it right and you could be set up for success for 5-10 years.

When it comes to DBs, we believe in the “draft studs or punt the position” approach. Here’s why: outside of the top 3 dudes (4 if you want to include Derwin), there’s a big, fat middle of safeties who will all produce about the same. Sure, one or two of them might pop and emerge as a top 3 option in 2021, but if we’re looking at their dynasty outlook, there isn’t a lot of difference between #5 and #18 on our list.

Speaking of which, these rankings are pulled from Adam’s free dynasty rankings, which you can find right here. A few things have changed between when this episode was recorded and the writing of this article. Most notably: Marlon Humphrey got bumped out of the top 12 and Khari Willis moved into the top 10. A few other guys moved around within the top 12, including Xavier McKinney jumping to #6.

Alright, enough housekeeping. Let’s get to the list!

#1: Jamal Adams

Seattle Seahawks

In offensive fantasy football, we talk about players like Christian McCaffrey as “cheat code” players because we basically get a WR1 plus an RB1 in a single slot. Adam said it well, Jamal is that type of player for IDP. He’s part safety/LB/DE.

From PFF’s Jon Marci: “Most snaps in the box the past 3 years for DB. 358 pass rush attempts in his career, which is 100 more than the next closest. That’s led to 21.5 sacks over his career (4 seasons). The next closest DB is 9.5. CHEAT CODE PLAYER.”

On a per-game basis, Adams has been THE S1 since 2018. In 2018, he averaged 16.6 ppg. In 2019, it was 17.1 ppg. Last year, he averaged 18.3 ppg. SOMETHING IN OUR HEARTS TELLS US ADAMS WILL AVERAGE 19 PPG THIS YEAR!

Adams is only 25 years old and just signed a 4 year/$70 million contract with $38 million guaranteed, making him the highest-paid safety in the league. We didn’t need the new contract to secure his spot atop these rankings, but it certainly helps.

#2: Jeremy Chinn

Carolina Panthers

During our prep for this podcast episode, we had the epiphany that Jeremy Chinn was the IDP equivalent of Justin Jefferson: the rookie we had high hopes for but who blew away our expectations. We all knew Chinn would be good, just not THIS good.

Here’s a fun fact: Chinn was S6 in total points according to Big 3 scoring. Jefferson was WR6 in total points by FantasyPros scoring. If you’re wondering what the ceiling is for Chinn, it’s Jamal Adams. And we think he’ll get there.

Don’t be surprised if the 23-year-old safety is S1 come 2022.

#3: Budda Baker

Arizona Cardinals

Baker was S2 in PPG according to Big 3 scoring in 2020 and S1 in total points. He’s 25 years old and just keeps doing it for IDP. In 2019, he was S2. If you want to put him at S2, we don’t blame you. Our listeners know how much we love Baker.

This ranking is more about what’s in front of Baker than a reflection of his talent. He’s not a cheat code like Jamal Adams and Jeremy Chinn is a couple of years younger. Plus, with the additions of Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins, the Cardinals defense is vastly improved. As DFF Tripp astutely pointed out in a recent episode, if you’re high on Simmons and Collins for IDP, you almost naturally have to fade Baker a bit. If you think of this duo like Devin White and Lavonte David, then expecting Baker to finish somewhere around where Antoine Winfield/Jordan Whitehead finished.

#4: Derwin James

Los Angeles Chargers

Like Bradley Chubb, we’re chasing the 2018 dragon with Derwin. But what a dragon it was: S5 in his rookie year, averaging 14.7 ppg. He just turned 25 on August 3.

This is truly a make-or-break season for James in many respects. Not just for his long-term IDP value, but also his future with the Chargers, who’ve already picked up his 5th-year option. But he’ll be due a new contract next year.

So, if he gets hurt and misses significant time again, he’ll probably be on a new team in 2023. In 2019, he fractured his foot. In 2020, he tore his meniscus. We’re not going to slap the much-maligned “injury-prone” label on him because of those two injuries. We will say he’s been unlucky. Does that bad luck break for 2021? We hope so.

#5: Jessie Bates III

Cincinnati Bengals

With 13.3 PPG in 2020, Bates was tied for 6th among safeties with Jordan Poyer. This was a big jump from 2019 when he was S14. What’s really changed for Bates? It’s still him and Vonn Bell at safety, with questionable LBs in front of him.

What you also like about Bates is, unlike some IDP assets, he’s actually a good player—one of the tops at his position. He had a 90.1 overall PFF grade in 2020, which was first among safeties. His 90.0 coverage grade was second behind only Adrian Amos.

#6: Xavier McKinney

New York Giants

Here’s what Josh shared during the episode to explain the love for McKinney:

Do you know why I traded for Patrick Mahomes in the offseason before his second year? Because of an article I read by Robert Mays, who wrote about all the special things he saw Mahomes do in a Week 17 game against Denver his rookie season.

Because of injury, McKinney’s rookie season was a wash. But if we apply the Mahomes test and look at what he did in Week 17 when he got 74 snaps (compared to 39, 42, and 47 the three weeks before that), we see this: 8 tackles and 1 INT, good for 20 points. Even the week before that, on 47 snaps, he had 8 tackles. Are you seeing what we’re seeing? Flashes of something special in a limited sample size.

It’s possible McKinney racks up 100 tackles in 2021. For reference, Keanu Neal and Malcolm Butler did that in 2020. If he hits that floor, top 12 seems like a lock.

#7: Richie Grant

Atlanta Falcons

Reports out of training camp have the Falcons bringing Grant along slowly, so his outlook has cooled a bit for 2021. But for 2022 and beyond, oh baby it looks good.

Former Falcons safety Keanu Neal was tied with Vonn Bell for S13 in 2020 PPG, with 11.3. What’s different from Chinn inheriting Eric Reid’s (2019’s S3) role in Carolina, versus Grant assuming the mantel from Neal in Atlanta? Is it in Grant’s range out of outcomes to finish at the S1 in the next two to three years?

We say yes and we’re grabbing Grant everywhere we can.

#8: John Johnson III

Cleveland Browns

When we did the “You’re Not That Guy, Pal” episode back in June, Bobby called out JJIII as being not that guy at his ADP of S9 off the board. Since then, things have changed a bit with Grant Delpit likely to miss time this season.

So, you might wonder if he’s being overdrafted at S9, why do we have him at S8? Here you see the difference between dynasty and redraft rankings. Long-term, we’re not worried about Johnson. But for 2021, we’d like a little more clarity about his role in this revamped Cleveland defense. In 2022, the picture should be clearer since fellow safety Ronnie Harrison will be a free agent, as will LB Anthony Walker. We think they’ll both be gone, so the competition for tackles should decrease in 2022.

#9: Antoine Winfield Jr.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Quick question: who played a higher percentage of defensive snaps for the Bucs in 2020? Devin White or Antoine Winfield Jr? That would be Mr. Winfield, who played 97.27%, second only to the legend Lavonte David. (Devin White, if you’re curious, played 93.23% of snaps.) That was good for S11 in total points in 2020.

If we’re giving rookies a pass in 2020, does that mean the ceiling is the roof for Winfield—who returns all his teammates—in 2021 and beyond? YES, HUN!

#10: Khari Willis

Indianapolis Colts

What makes a great safety for IDP? Generally, we like box safeties who are around the ball and have a chance to make plays. Willis is that guy for the Colts. According to Tom Kislingbury, he had 60% of his snaps in 2020 at the line, at slot corner, or in the box.

He graded out top 5 for the Colts on defense and was their best tackler on the team with exception of Isaiah Rodgers (who was only involved on 6 tackles). Willis notched 76 total tackles with only a 6.2% miss rate. He’s also an impact play guy with 1 forced fumble, 1 TD, 6 pass deflections, 2 sacks, and 2 INTs in only 14 games.

He averaged 12.8 ppg in Big 3 scoring, which was only 0.7 ppg behind perceived top 3 dynasty safety Jeremy Chinn. The difference between those two players?

You don’t have to pay the premium cost for Willis, who rose the most between the time of recording this episode and writing this article. Adam moved him from S17 to S10 and it’s not hard to understand why. The only issue remaining is whether the Colts believe in Khari long-term, as he’ll be due for an extension in 2022. Stay tuned!

#11: Jabrill Peppers

New York Giants

Peppers was S5 in total points and PPG in 2020, and was S5 in 2019 in PPG. He’s 25 years old, which is why you see McKinney a couple of spots higher.

Peppers has proven he’s a baller. My only two doubts: what is he with McKinney in the lineup all year? And are the Giants going to bring him back? They picked up his 5th-year option, but he’s a free agent in 2022. If the Giants extend him prior to the season, my confidence goes way up. I want him to stay in this New York defense.

For more context, let’s look at Peppers’ PFF grades. He had a 64.7 overall grade and a 57.2 coverage grade, so not outstanding. Yes, he had a career-best 14.4 ppg in 2020, which was was 5th most among DBs, but boy, he really let fantasy managers down when it mattered. He started off the season ice cold, only having 17 TOTAL points through the first 4 weeks. Then he balls out Weeks 5-14, averaging 19.1 ppg over that span. But then, he put up 3 points in Week 15 and 6.5 points in Week 16.

Yikes! So, probably not a lot of people that won leagues in 2020 did so with Peppers as their starter. He missed the 2019 playoffs because of injury, so it’s two years in a row where he hasn’t come through in the clutch. Is the time to sell now? Feels like it.

#12: Vonn Bell

Cincinnati Bengals

What does it say about the Bengals and Giants that they have two safeties inside the top 12? (Besides the fact that Adam is a smart and beautiful man?) Listen to the AFC North preview with Evan if you want the full rundown on Bell.

TL;DR is he grades well (71.5 overall, 78.3 in run defense) and is a sound tackler. His 4.8% missed tackle rate was second best for an IDP with 100+ tackles. The best rate was actually—checks notes, double checks—Josey Jewell, with 3.4%.

He is consistently drafted later than he should be, which makes him a great redraft value for 2021. He’s just not a safety we’re going to reach for in dynasty startups.

To hear our discussion of these players, check out the podcast episode here.

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Photo attribution:

All-Pro Reels from District of Columbia, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Jeffrey Beall, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons